A couple of years ago we went back to Southern Africa on a family holiday. While there we went on Safari in Botswana in search of the so called Big Five.
The Big Five is the common wish list of wildlife tourists and includes seeing Lion; Buffalo; Elephant; Rhino and Leopard.
The most spectacular of these is probably the Lion.
Well we were fortunate enough to see all five (though we saw fresh leopard kill rather than an actual leopard). How easily that rolls off the tongue! Yet attached to each sighting, is a story of surprise and exhilarating testing.
The safari guide prepared us for the bush walks. No guns - all based on responses. If you come across lion, do not run, stand your ground, look straight into the lion’s eyes. Thought he was joking, perhaps tourist hype. Then went for a walk, saw very little, rounded a corner and there was a pride of 5 lions.
There was a moment of decision. Felt like running. Remembered the prep and so froze. The lions paused, took a moment to assess the situation and then bolted. We were safe. Never in my life have I had to rely so heavily on my preparation!
Life is like that. You never know what challenge awaits you around the corner, you lose your job, fail an exam, fall out with a friend, encounter a difficult work mate.
St Paul was one who came up with a kind of wish list for the Christian walk in 1 Corinthians 13.
His was a list of three, Faith, Hope and Love.
Paul says the greatest most spectacular of these is Love and from the Gospel reading it would seem that Jesus is in complete agreement with him.
“The greatest commandment is to love God and love your neighbor.”
Over the past weeks in Lent we have been on our own spiritual safari looking for and at Faith, Hope and of course Love as we track through our Lenten studies. We have been as it were preparing ourselves for our life’s encounter with each of these.
The Romans passage makes a fairly obvious point that it is impossible in the nature of things, to live an isolated life. There is no such thing in this world as a completely detached individual.
We are connected to all who came before us. Maori culture understands this. We don’t start our lives from nothing. We are an amalgam of all that came before us, our tradition, heritage and ancestry. The cloud of unseen witnesses, are carried within us literally and figuratively in our DNA.
We have the terrible power to make others happy or sad by our conduct. From each of us there goes out an influence which affects others.
We hand on to the next generation physical life and spiritual character.
So we are a link in a chain that came before us and will continue after us. We leave something of ourselves in the world because we leave something of ourselves in others.
Still less can we disentangle ourselves from Christ whom we know to be one with God.
We belong to God.
“If we live we live to the Lord and if we die, we die to the Lord.” God is forever a living presence.
Not even death breaks that presence.
Each of us will give an account of himself to God says Paul.
So on our life’s journey connecting with and relating to God and to people is a given.
How we do that is our choice.
Paul invites us to search out Faith; Hope and Christian Love which he defines as doing that which leads to peace and mutual edification. By ‘mutual edification’ is meant the building up of others and ourselves. Love builds up and leads to peace.
Jesus does the same: "Love God and Love your neighbor."
Religion to Jesus was loving God and loving people. He seems to be saying that the only way humans can prove that they love God is by loving each other.
Now I am not telling you anything new here I am sure, but I am reminding you of something vitally important. Throughout the Lenten studies we are pondering on Faith Hope and Love. Why? Well to prepare our hearts and minds for the surprises life throws at us. As we journey through life, we never know what awaits us around the corner. What dangerous experience, what enormous challenge.
How we respond will have a lot to do with our spiritual preparation?
You know the story, you journey along in your usual humdrum way and then suddenly poof you turn a corner and there it is, the experience that will test your ability to have faith in God, to hope in his promises, to respond with love in a way that is unconditional and mutually edifying. Bad news, some crises, disappointment, an accident, a betrayal, a loss!
Now if you have never explored Faith Hope or Christian Love in any kind of depth, what resources will you draw on to meet that challenge?
This is why what you are doing in Lent, your reflections and prayer and study and discussions are so important.
Just as every word of the lecture of the Safari Guide was needed for that moment when we came across those lions, so we need to know and have studied what Christian Faith, Hope and Love looks like otherwise how will we be able to respond appropriately.
Looking at the life of Jesus and at his teachings it would seem to me that emotion has very little to do with Christian faith, hope and love. What you feel like doing at the time you are challenged is less useful than what your educated will tells you to do.
Just as when facing that lion, the last thing we needed to do was the thing we most felt like doing. We had to rely on our informed wills.
I will respond to a given situation with faith hope and love, not because I feel like it, but because my informed will knows, that is what I must do.
I will share with others what I have, my knowledge of Jesus; the Gospel; my time; my resources; my life regardless of whether I consider people to be deserving or not but simply in order to build them up and in so doing to build my own character in the mould of love.
I will sacrifice my own needs, interests and even my life when necessary, to make a kingdom difference.
The history of the church is full of people who when faced with a dangerous or costly challenge were sufficiently prepared to respond sacrificially to a need. Their examples are inspiring and they have made an awesome contribution to kingdom work.
They include the people who started and continue to support Save the Children; Amnesty International; Shelter; The Samaritans; The Hospice Movement; Relate. These organizations all started by Christians who responded to God’s call to faith hope and love.
But it’s not all high drama. The Christian safari is a mix of sometimes dramatic and heroic acts and sometimes practical and domestic ones.
Jesus revealed both, the dramatic and the heroic on the cross and the practical and domestic in the washing of his disciple’s feet.
We started by talking about the search for the Big 5 on Safari.
Now as we go on our spiritual safari and search for the Big three of faith hope and love in our own Christian walk let us not be caught off guard by the surprises of life but let us continue to be prayerful in our preparation, alert in our spirits, watchful in our walk so that as we turn the corner and face the surprising challenges of our lives, some big and dangerous, others small and domestic, we may be confident that we are sufficiently prepared to respond with Faith in God; Hope in his promises and with Love that is unconditional and builds up others.
In a moment of silence take some time to think of one area where God may be challenging you to demonstrate Christian faith, hope or love, in your life.
Sermon by Rev. Charmaine Braatvedt
Faith Hope and the greatest of these, Love
Mark 12:28 – 34 and Romans 14 : 7 – 19
The Anglican Parish of Devonport Auckland, New Zealand
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